Professor Tori Freestone


Course Studied: Jazz

Multi-instrumentalist Professor Tori Freestone, Professor of Jazz Performance and Composition has performed at the forefront of the UK improvised music scene for over a decade as both a sidewoman and highly regarded bandleader.

Her artistic output has seen her collaborate with artists such as Alcyona Mick, Dave Mannington and Tim Giles, co-lead ensembles including Solstice and perform with the London Jazz Orchestra, Hermeto Pascoal & the UK All Star Big Band, the Ivo Neame Quintet & Octet and the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra to name but a few. 

A recipient of the 2017 Arts Foundation Award for Jazz Composition (supported by PRS for Music Foundation), the funding provided through this initiative has enabled Tori to simultaneously write and record for her various musical projects.

Below, she discusses her exciting musical journey and explains how one of the areas most loved exports – the humble Yorkshire pudding, affected her decision to study at the City of Leeds College of Music.

With your initial training as a classical flautist, what was it that attracted you to jazz and how did you make this transition?

I wouldn't say my initial training was as a classical flautist actually. I started off by playing violin and whistles - mostly folk music, and played in folk clubs with my family from the age of 7, but I also listened to a lot of jazz at home. I always wanted to play flute, mainly because of the flute playing on a lot of my dad's Brazilian records.

I feel improvising is what I've been doing from the start and in fact I certainly wasn't a natural reader. I had to work quite hard on that and joining NYJO when I was at secondary school and being thrown in at the deep end with my first gig after only one rehearsal really helped me develop.

What attracted you to studying in Leeds and what do you think of the music community here?

I went to Leeds College of Music… because of Yorkshire puddings! 

Let me explain - I'd got a place at university to study English, but on my year off I was working regularly with NYJO and a few of the guys there recommended I auditioned for Leeds. I went along to the audition and in the lunch break went across the road to a cafe in the Merrion Centre (a classic old school cafe). To my delight you could order a Yorkshire pudding with 'chips ‘n gravy'. To my ecstatic surprise the Yorkshire pudding filled the plate. The thought of this as my lunch offerings on a daily basis was too much to resist!  

On a slightly more serious note, I'd also already visited the college to perform with NYJO as part of the Leeds International Jazz Festival which used to happen when the college was located in another part of the city (where the Civic Theatre is on Cookridge Street). The atmosphere at the festival was amazing and I thought it'd be a great place to study. The music community back then in Leeds was as great as I think it is now. It's always had a good scene and venues to play at due to the amount of jazz students and alumni that are based in the city.

What were the most useful lessons learnt during your time at LCoM?

A wonderful pianist/composer and teacher Bill Kinghorn tutored at Leeds at the time and gave us harmony classes. His lessons were very inspiring as he encouraged you to learn to teach yourself which I think is the most valuable lesson any student can learn. You can feed a jazz student information parrot fashion but the joy of hearing a sound then internalising it and then working out how to use it in your own way with your own voice is something special and I'm glad that process was never taken away from me. I also had a few lessons from inspiring tutors such as Nikki Iles and Indian improvisation lessons which helped to look at improvisation from a variety of perspectives.

In a jazz scene teeming with saxophonists, it's a testament to your musicianship and individuality that you are a member of so many forward-thinking projects like Ivo Neame's Quintet, Solstice and Fringe Magnetic. What do you think has contributed to your popularity?

In all the projects you mention above, I'm not only performing on tenor but on flute too, so versatility has definitely contributed (in Fringe Magnetic I only played flute). Also I co-lead Solstice and compose for the ensemble so being a composer is another reason for being involved - difficult to get rid of me in that case!

I play with the London Jazz Orchestra and performed with the UK All Star Big Band at the Barbican in 2017 with Hermeto Pascoal and to play alongside some of my favourite musicians in that band such as Stan Sulzmann and Julian Siegel was an absolute honour. I'm sure the doubling capabilities helped me gain a place in those ensembles. It’s an absolute honour whatever the reason. 

As well as all your work with these projects, you're also very active as a band-leader. What is your approach to writing your own music and learning all that often very complex and difficult music with the band?

I write with the various projects in mind that I lead or co-lead. For the trio I'm much more linear in my approach. I often use the saxophone rather than the piano to write for the trio and have a four track device I often use (I only go to Sibelius at the final point and often bring unfinished charts to rehearsals with the trio to try sections out and see what they bring to the music too). With the duo I write more harmonically so will often use the piano.

How did you begin working with your Trio? What is it about Tim Giles and Dave Mannington that made you want to work with them?

I met Tim and Dave years back when I was studying for my postgrad at Guildhall. They've been playing together since they met at school (they both grew up in the same area). They played on my finals and I loved working with them back then. I was (and still am) in a number of ensembles with them and it always felt so easy to play with them and I felt we had a like-minded approach. They work so well together and I love the rhythmic interplay we can get as a trio. Dave has a very solid rhythmic approach and Tim is so free and yet so solid. I feel that although they can pull the rug from under my feet, I can always trust them implicitly to lay it down when needed and in this way have the confidence to push the boundaries and limits of where I'm taking the music. 

As well as jazz, you seem to be quite influenced by other styles from Brazilian music to singer-songwriter and folk. How do you work these influences into your music?

Yes, I love contemporary and straight-ahead jazz and listen to many of the tenor players you'd expect but I also love Cuban and Brazilian music (I toured with a Cuban band for many years and played over there a few years back) and also had the amazing opportunity to work with Hermeto Pascoal in 2017 who's one of my all-time heroes. I also am pretty obsessed with Joni Mitchell.  

I think any music you listen to tends to have an organic way of working its way into your music. I recently wrote a piece for Solstice and my duo with Alcyona Mick entitled Hermetica, as I had the tune in my head after playing Hermeto's music with the UK All Star Big Band for a week. It just started going round my head a few weeks after and that's often how it works.

I wouldn't say I ever purposefully work influences into my compositions - they just happen. The only time I've consciously tried to work any influences into my writing was arranging a Kenny Wheeler influenced piece for a big band at college. I listened to a lot of 'music for large and small ensemble' and tried to work out some of the techniques Kenny had used for writing for big band. I think that's a useful kind of exercise to do sometimes and especially during college years.  

What advice would you give to a prospective student, wanting to study jazz? 

Make the most of your time at college. Enjoy yourself of course, but work hard and nuture and relish the time you have to practice and focus on your own personal development. When you leave the academic environment you'll never have that freedom time wise to solely work on your own personal development as inevitably there will be work and life commitments that you can't avoid.


Click here to view Tori's website.

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